California Utility Shines Light On Solar-Powered Billboard

Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) has unveiled the nation's first solar-powered billboard in San Francisco as part of the utility's new advertising campaign, "We Can Do This."

The campaign--running on television, online, and now on a solar-powered billboard--features information about a variety of programs and services PG&E offers that reflect the company's commitment to the environment.

The open-ended campaign designed by Venables Bell & Partners got underway in November, but the solar-powered billboard was unveiled this week. The ads, sectioned into two categories--"What we're doing" and "What you can do--are "meant to get people thinking about actionable steps we can all take in the fight against global warming," says Joe Molica, a PG&E spokesperson. "The campaign is shareholder-funded because it's appropriate for the corporation to pay."

Bringing awareness to global warming, PG&E recently set up shop on a local street corner to hand out more than 1 million compact fluorescent light bulbs to customers, asking them to replace one incandescent bulb. PG&E claims if every Californian switched out one regular bulb with a CFL bulb, it would be the equivalent of taking thousands of cars off the road.



In a television commercial, PG&E demonstrates how the company taps cow power in the fight against global warming. With pictures of green pastures, cows and farmers, the voiceover says "Cow manure releases methane gas, which is over 20 times more harmful to the environment than CO2. So we're working with diaries to capture this gas and convert it into enough clean energy to power more than 150,000 homes. Smells like progress to us."

An online video ad shows tech-support personnel pulling plugs and removing hundreds of computer servers from a room, as the voiceover explains; "The battle against global warming is happening right in this server room through a technology called virtualization. PG&E is helping this company reduce its number of servers by 96%, saving enough energy to power 50 homes for an entire year, all while keeping 1,000 pounds of CO2 out of the air." Intel and VMware, which provides a means to store digital documents known as virtualization, works with PG&E to raise awareness.

Located at 1000 Brannan St., the solar-powered billboard has 20 solar modules providing up to 3.4 kilowatts of renewable solar energy to the PG&E grid. The power generated by the system exceeds the power used at night to illuminate the billboard's lights. The company also replaced the billboard's halophane light fixtures with energy-efficient LED lights.

The solar panels, provided by SunTech Power, headquartered in China, collect direct current (DC) electricity from the sun's rays. Using a Fronius IG 3000 grid-tie inverter, the renewable energy is converted to alternating current (AC) power and fed into the electricity grid.

With the debut of PG&E's solar-powered billboard, the United States joins Canada and South Africa as the only countries to utilize solar technology this way. Unlike the two Canadian solar-powered billboards located in Vancouver and Toronto, PG&E's billboard, along with South Africa's, connects with the grid--providing renewable energy to the utility's customers.

PG&E, which serves California customers from Mendocino County as far south as Bakersfield, supplies 12% of its energy from qualifying renewable sources under California's Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) program. The goal is to reach 20% by 2010. Through its leading energy efficiency and demand response programs, the company has helped prevent more than 125 million tons of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere, while saving customers nearly $20 billion, it says.

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